China's restrictive approach to children's screen time and homework showing promising benefits

China’s restrictive approach to children’s screentime and homework showing promising benefits
China’s restrictive approach to children’s screentime and homework showing promising benefits Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Oceane Duboust
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China's measures - including screen time restrictions - have led to a decrease in daily sedentary behaviour among children, according to a new UK study.


A series of measures taken by China to curb sedentary behaviour among children in the country have been successful, a new study by British scientists has shown.

The measures include restrictions on online gaming companies targeting a young demographic, limitations on the amount of homework teachers can assign, and curtailment of lesson schedules of private tuition businesses.

As a result, there has been a notable decline in both the overall duration of sedentary time and the length of various sedentary activities.

According to the latest research, these interventions are linked to a 13.8 per cent decrease in daily sedentary behaviour. It represents over 45 minutes each day when the children weren’t physically inactive, particularly among students in urban areas.

A team led by the University of Bristol in the UK published their findings in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.

"The results are exciting as this type of regulatory intervention across multiple settings has never been tried before," Dr Bai Li, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

"Traditionally, children and their parents or carers have been guided with education and encouraged to make behavioural changes themselves, which hasn’t really worked," she added.

Researchers analysed data from more than 7,000 primary and secondary school students aged 9 to 18 from across 14 cities in the Guangxi region of southern China.

Data was gathered in 2020 and 2021, before and after the regulations were introduced.

Less screen time

The average daily screen-viewing time dropped by 10 per cent, equating to around 10 minutes less on devices.

"With these regulatory measures, the onus has shifted to online gaming companies, schools and, private tutoring companies to comply. This very different approach appears to be more effective because it is aimed at improving the environment in which children and adolescents live, supporting a healthier lifestyle," Li said, adding that further research was needed to know if these results were replicable on an international scale.

In recent years, China has made several propositions to curb screen time ranging from instituting a strict three-hour-per-week limit for children playing video games to putting pressure on tech companies to have a "minor mode" for those under 18.

The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasises the importance of physical activity for children and adolescents aged 5-17 and recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity daily.

It also pushes to limit sedentary behaviour like prolonged sitting.

"This is a fascinating study because most interventions to reduce sedentary behaviours have relied on educational approaches rather than the regulatory measures used here," said Professor Boyd Swinburn, co-director at the WHO, who wasn’t involved in the study.

"While achieving similar regulations in countries outside China may be a challenge, the impact of the regulations does show how sensitive sedentary behaviours are to the prevailing environmental conditions and rules," he added.

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